Thanksgiving 2020

For ‘real’ Thanksgiving – the one that came yesterday, as opposed to the one we had for the show last week – I had to do without two very important traditions. This would be the fourth year running that I wasn’t at home with my family…and there was no turkey bowl this year, either. After how much fun it was playing in the rain last year, I was really looking forward to another chance to play football…but I reckon that’s’ just one more thing that’s gonna have to wait until next year. I can’t imagine things won’t be back to some kind of normal by next Thanksgiving.

So this year the plan was real simple: watch some football over at Keaton’s, then get dressed and head up to Joyce’s where she was making dinner for the 3 of us. I know you’re supposed to have Thanksgiving only with your own household, but me, Joyce and Keaton kinda make up a household. I’m always up at her house, and, when I’m not there, I’m over at his place half the time. And we were together for Halloween already. So we figure we’re all ok, especially as the 3 of us are super careful when we’re not with each other.

Neither me nor Keaton cared a whole lot about the Detroit/Houston game, but we watched it anyway. (Keaton, I was sure of it, had some money on the game, so he at least had some reason for watching) I’m sure he’d of rather seen the Dallas game, since the Cowboys are his team, but that started just when we were set to start eating at Joyce’s. (Keaton: “Just as well I wasn’t watching…I bet against them but not that they’d get their asses kicked as bad as the did.”) Keaton made us breakfast before the game. He makes a mean breakfast, although I think I make better coffee, but I’m not going to turn my nose up at eggs and bacon and sausage and biscuits when all I get for breakfast in my own house these days is Fruity Dino Bites.

I finished watching the game at my place while I was getting dressed. Keaton did the same. Joyce likes us to look nice for holidays, and, although I’m sure y’all think of Keaton as a tshirt and jeans kinda guy (which he is), he cleans up real nice. Even if he somehow always looks like he should get a haircut lol. We drove over in the shitbox: Keaton said he’d rather uber home and not worry about having an extra beer with his pie.

Speaking of pie, we had a stop to make on our way up to Altadena: Mrs. LaSalle was baking the pies this year, one apple…and one sweet potato. She let us know that she’s not a great baker, but she’s getting bored being inside all the time due to COVID and she was looking for a project to keep her busy. (Mrs. LaSalle: “I admire your grandmother, Hunter, if she can bake pies like this all the time. Lucinda kept making fun of all the flour I got on the floor.” Lucinda is her cleaning woman who comes in twice a week and is practically the only person she gets to see.)

When we got to Joyce’s the whole house was decorated, in fall colors with all kinds of things made of fall leaves that made me a little homesick, since, in Tennessee, the leaves change and fall off the trees like they don’t in California. There are times when I miss having seasons…and I reckon I was missing home some, too.

Before dinner, Joyce gave me an assignment I wasn’t expecting: getting it so that her computer monitor could go on the dining room table so that Mrs. LaSalle could join us for dinner. In addition to the pies, Mrs. LaSalle cooked herself a whole Thanksgiving dinner and bought herself a bottle of wine so that she could eat with us, even if she wasn’t in the same room. I still take Mrs. LaSalle her groceries twice a week, but I don’t get to see her when I do. I just leave them on the doorstep. She’s got a heart condition and high blood pressure…plus she’s 90. She’s in good shape in spite of all that, but she’s got to be super super careful of COVID.

So it was 4 of us at table. Mrs. LaSalle looked like she had a nice dinner prepared for herself, and Joyce did a very good job for the 3 of us who were eating there live. She even got a little fancy and turned out a shrimp ‘bisque’ which was like a cream of shrimp soup…and the kind of thing that makes you want to get very last drop out of the bowl when you’re done.

Then we had turkey, herb dressing, mashed potatoes, candied yams (the kind with marshmallows; Meemaw would not have approved), green bean casserole, turkey gravy, and, because Joyce wanted a fresh vegetable , spinach. Mrs. LaSalle (with some help from Lucinda, I think) had almost all the same things, so we got to compare. (And she didn’t have marshmallows on her yams…)

We didn’t make it a formal thing, but Joyce kinda subtly got us to say what we were thankful for. She said she was thankful for her boyfriend and to still be employed. We all agreed about the job thing, and of course I said I was thankful for my girlfriend and my best buddy. (Keaton: “it’s fuckin gay for me to say it, but, yeah, I’m thankful to have you in my life, bubba.”) Then I said I was thankful for the Sharpmans and all the opportunities they brought (Joyce: “I knew you’d like being a sex symbol if you lived with it for a few weeks”)…and that I was thankful to still be able to keep a roof over my head.

Then something weird happened. Joyce and Mrs. LaSalle started smiling…like they had a secret. Both me and Keaton were puzzled, since something clearly was going on.

“What’s happening?,” I asked.

Joyce looked at the monitor on the table. “I think you have to tell him.”

“Tell me what?”

“I didn’t want you to find out,” Mrs. La Salle said, “but I’m the person who paid your rent in September. You’ve been such a help to me ever since the quarantine and Joyce told me that you were hard up, so I thought it was the least I could do.”

“You knew?,” I asked, turning to Joyce.

“I only found out a couple weeks ago.”

“It slipped out,” Mrs. LaSalle said. “It really was supposed to stay a secret.”

“Wow,” I said. “I’m…kinda speechless. But thank you…although that doesn’t really seem enough.”

“Of course it’s enough, and you’re welcome. And if you’re stuck again, don’t hesitate to come to me. One thing I have plenty of is money, even in what the Medicare commercials keep calling ‘these uncertain times’. I hope you know I think of all of you as family. You’re better to me than my family is a lot of the time. Look who I’m having Thanksgiving with.”

“We think of you the same way,” Joyce said. “You’re always welcome here…and I’m looking forward to the time that you can be here with us in person for celebrations.”

I think even Keaton got a little misty-eyed. That can happen to even the toughest hombres.

For my part, I was still processing the fact that the person who paid my rent was Mrs. LaSalle. I gotta tell y’all that I’ve spend a lot of time thinking who it could have been, but I never thought of Mrs. LaSalle. I finally decided that it had to have been Meemaw and she just didn’t want me to know…or have Dad find out that she was spending so much money on me. I never expected it to be Mrs. LaSalle…and I was a little worried that I’d never be able to pay her back.

“Don’t worry about paying me back,” she said, reading my mind. “I told you I have plenty…and I’d rather give it away while I’m alive and see it make people happy than have people carve it up after I’m gone.”

I never thought about it that way, but, then, I’ve got a few years to go before I get to be Mrs. LaSalle’s age. I was pretty much speechless for a few minutes. I mean, me and Joyce have known Mrs. LaSalle for getting on two years now, and I’ve been taking her her groceries, but I didn’t think that she thought I was all that important in her life. And then she up and goes and does something really wonderful for me without even expecting me ever to find out about it.

Sometimes you don’t know how to say thank you for something, and this was one of those times.

So one of the things I’m very thankful for this Thanksgiving is having Mrs. LaSalle in my life. I owe her a lot of grocery deliveries for a whole month’s rent.

Then it was time for dessert, so out came Mrs. LaSalle’s pies.

“I hope you like them,” she said. “If not, you should at least know a lot of love went into making them. If I’d made pumpkin instead of sweet potato, I could have gotten the filling from a can, but Joyce told me that you prefer sweet potato, Hunter, and I figured that Keaton, being a southerner, would too. So Joyce the Yankee got outvoted 2 to 1 . I’m ashamed to say it, but I’ve gotten to be my age and I’ve never tasted a sweet potato pie…and it’s a very strange experience cooking something when you don’t know how it’s supposed to turn out. “

“Where did you get the recipe?,” Joyce asked.

“I got it off the Internet, from something called ‘A Taste of Southern’ – I was trying to be as authentic as I could. I wasn’t going to trust a Yankee like Martha Stewart for something like this.”

The pie was delicious. Very different from Meemaw’s, but every good. Mrs. LaSalle said it had a lot of butter in it and no eggs…and no sherry, which I know Meemaw includes a little bit of in hers. It tasted like buttery sweet potatoes…and, well, buttery sweet potatoes are a pretty awesome thing.

Joyce had Cool Whip to put on the sweet potato pie. I’ve had it with whipped cream too (that’s how Allan served his), but, for some reason, Cool Whip tastes better on sweet potato and pumpkin pie. Mom wasn’t the biggest fan of the stuff, but we always had it Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The apple pie was great too. Joyce heated it up and served it a la mode, which is the best way to eat apple pie (although I really like it cold, too.)

So it was a great meal, and we all ate hearty. Keaton’s got an appetite like mine, so Joyce wasn’t gonna be faced with a ton of leftovers.

Since I didn’t have to worry about being in the store for Black Friday this year, we took our time over dinner. We said good night to Mrs. LaSalle at around 9, then Keaton helped us clean up. I thought he was gonna just help clear, but he rolled up his sleeves and took over at the sink. He’s got this secret domestic side he might break my arm for writing about, but the fact is that he’s gonna make a very good husband one of these years. I’m a little jealous of how good he is around the house. Maybe it’s because he’s an only child that his mom taught him how to cook and shit like that. (Mom, after I asked her about that: “you were always playing baseball…when did you expect me to teach you to cook?.”)

Although we didn’t get to go to Adam and Allan’s, we did get a report from them. Allan told Joyce that they were just going to be the two of them for Thanksgiving and that they’d just roast a turkey breast. The news from Thom and Leslie and Ethan is good, though. She’s been keeping up with everything the court told her to do – stuff like psychiatrist visits and community service. Adam thinks she’s getting better all the time and might be able to go back to a normal life soon. They still have the court-ordered nurse living with them, and a social worker drops in unexpectedly all the time, but they’re all looking out for Ethan. As for him, he’s super disappointed he wasn’t able to start playing football this year, but he’s still got plenty of time ahead of him. Given how disturbing they all were two years ago when we first met them, there’s something else to be thankful for.

Given how weird Thanksgiving 2020 was setting itself up to be, and how unhappy so many people were about not being able to spend it with family, mine turned out pretty well. I spent it with the people who are closest to me in California and we had the holiday with all the trimmings, right down to sweet potato pie. (Whoa…I wonder who explained Zoom to Mrs. LaSalle? Actually, knowing her, I bet she figured it out for herself. If you can climb Mt. Everest, you can figure out Zoom lol.)

So I had a lot to be thankful for. And that’s what the holiday is all about.

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